New NOAH Gaijins?

Over the last two years, since becoming part of the CyberAgent’s CyberFight division, Pro Wrestling NOAH has finally found stable ownership. It has grown in both prominence and popularity in Japan. The company style has changed from the Royal Road-Ark style implemented in the early 2000s. Today’s Pro Wrestling NOAH is the most hard-hitting, strike-heavy promotion in Japan. As Japan expands its COVID-era parameters, NOAH found itself competing against market-leader New Japan Pro Wrestling in a one-night super-card in Yokohama on January 8th. Featuring GHC Heavyweight Champion Katsuhiko Nakajima and GHC National Champion KENOH, two of the sharpest, fiercest kickers in the game, and grapplers Takashi Sugiura, Kaito Kiyomiya, and Go Shiozaki, student of Kenta Kobashi and inheritor of his machine gun chops. While significantly older than New Japan’s features, the NOAH roster implements a style that is far closer to Antonio Inkoi’s vision for Strong Style.

Since the dawning of the pandemic in early 2020, the amount of gaijin (foreign) talent wrestling in Japanese companies has dropped. Other than a handful of full-time competitors in New Japan and Chris Brookes in DDT, the tradition of American and UK talent making permanent homes in Japan had become a thing of the past. This has begun to change, most recently with Pro Wrestling NOAH announcing the impending arrival of GCW mainstay Ninja Mack. With a plethora of free-agent talent in the US independent scene, we look at five different US-based talents who could fit right at home in the company founded over twenty years ago by Mitsuharu Misawa twenty years ago.

5. Kevin Blackwood

While a car accident nearly ended his and Daniel Garcia’s careers, both of Buffalo’s finest made triumphant returns to the ring. Both became fixtures on AEW dark during the pandemic era. While Garcia exploded in 2021, being recognized as one of the best independent wrestlers in the world, and was signed to AEW, Blackwood has remained a fixture on the indy scene. A talented grappler with a striking look that would be sure to draw conversation in Japan, his style would fit nicely with NOAH’s Jr. Heavyweight scene. Matches against GHC Jr. Heavyweight Champion HAYATA and the ageless Yoshinari Ogawa come to mind.

4. Hakim Zane

The former-Rohit Raju has recently left Impact Wrestling. While in Impact, Zane won two X-Division titles and proved to be a jack-of-all-trades. Zane balances good charisma and solid acting ability with great workrate. Zane proved he could wrestle with anyone on the roster in Impact. Many could see his size as a hindrance, which should never be an issue with an X-Division competitor. Zane is another perfect fit for the NOAH Jr. Division. Zane’s personality would help him stand out in the Division. Encounters with YO-HEY and booker NOSAWA Rongai look interesting on paper.

3. Jake Something

While Something is still signed to Impact Wrestling, he’s been relatively underutilized during his time. Something is thick, with a muscular build and high-level athleticism. While much of his Impact work has been solid, he’s a significant player in the Midwest independent scene, particularly in Chicago’s AAW promotion. Something is significantly larger than most of the NOAH mainstays, which gives potential match-ups with Kiyomiya or Go Shiozaki an exciting turn.

2. Shane Taylor

The leader of Shane Taylor Promotions is one of the recently released Ring of Honor talents. Taylor started in ROH in a tag team with Keith Lee, and over the years, has evolved into one of the promotion’s top performers. His immense size is unmatched on the NOAH roster. Not since Vader or Takeshi Morishima has NOAH had such a gifted, super heavyweight. However, Taylor could be considered a better athlete than those two. Matches against Sugiura and Nakajima are interesting. Taylor’s size mixed with Suguira’s explosiveness and Nakajima’s striking ability makes for interesting clashes in styles. Another advantage in Taylor is his faction Shane Taylor Promotions. The tag team of Moses and Kaun would be an immediate threat to the GHC tag division. At the same time, O’Shaye Edwards helps solidify the unit. Factions are a time-honored trope in Japanese Pro Wrestling, and STP would be a perfect chapter to that history.

1. Jonathan Gresham

The Ring of Honor Pure and World Heavyweight Champion is one of the best professional wrestlers on that planet. His gritty grappling style would mesh perfectly with Sugiura and Shiozaki. Potential match-ups Nakajima and KENOH could make for match-of-the-year-type performances. Gresham’s unique ability to look imposing and exemplify his opponent’s strengths would mesh perfectly in the NOAH tradition. However, his position as ROH World Champion is what truly sets Gresham apart. With ROH in limbo, Gresham will be defending his title in various promotions as a modern take on the old traveling World Champion. Gresham’s arrival in Japan would harken back to the marches between Lou Thesz and Rikidozan for the NWA World Championship in the late-1950s. There is also an historical linage between ROH and NOAH. In the mid-to-late-2000s, the two companies had a working agreement that saw Misawa and Kobashi appear in ROH rings. The relationship also brought the young super heavyweight Morishima to the US for a legendary feud with Bryan Danielson. It’s only fitting to have Gresham represent ROH in a NOAH ring.